Clip-in pedals (more commonly, and perhaps confusingly, known as ‘clipless pedals’) are the combination of special bike shoes with cleats, which attach to the pedals via a sprung mechanism similar to ski binding.
Although initially, the idea of attaching your feet to the pedals may seem slightly crazy, and even dangerous, clipless pedals can greatly improve your pedalling efficiency which is particularly important on longer rides. So, if you are thinking about taking a cycling vacation or entering a cycling sportive, and are still riding in trainers, you may want to consider transitioning to clipless pedals beforehand.
The majority of people who switch to clip-less pedals will probably have experienced the dreaded ‘Clipped-In Moment’ – as you coast to a halt at a junction, forgetting that your feet are now locked to the pedals, you frantically try to pull your feet free as you slowly topple sideways. Fortunately these falls are mostly just embarrassing, but by following a little bit of advice and a bit of practice, you can save a red face and a few bruises, and before long clipping into the pedals becomes second nature.
A good way to accustom yourself to the process of clipping in and out is on a stationary trainer if you have access to one. When clipping in, place the front of the cleat into the front of the pedal and drop your heel to engage the back of the cleat. Listen for the tell-tale snap sound, then try pedalling for about a minute.
When stopping, clip out your non-leading foot by twisting your heel away from the bike. Each time you practice slide off your saddle and touch your foot to the ground before starting again. Repeat these steps several times till you feel comfortable.
Then test your new pedals and shoes on a short ride at a relaxed pace practicing starting and stopping until the habit is well formed. Overall, clip-in pedals might seem daunting at first but it is worth persevering and getting used to them. They will make your time on the bike much more efficient and more comfortable in the end.
Check out this article in Total Women’s Cycling for more detailed tips on selecting and riding with clipless pedals.